‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ Can’t Hide this Gem

by Joe Jarosz on May 2, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

Age is a delicate yet interesting topic nobody really likes discussing. The young want to be respected, but aren’t because they haven’t experienced life. The old want to feel young, as they inch closer to their demise. The acceptance and ignorance of age can and will affect the lives of people who don’t give age the respect it deserves.

In writer-director Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart plays Valentine, the mature, young personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s Maria, one of the world’s most famous actress of stage and screen.

The film opens on a train to Zurich, as Maria and Valentine prepare for a ceremony honoring Wilhelm Melchior, a reclusive playwright and filmmaker who gave Maria her first big break. The play—and film version of the fictional play—titled Maloja Snake was about a young girl who manipulates an older woman to get what she wants. Now, 20 years later, Maria is being asked to portray the older woman in a remake.

Almost immediately, we see how close Maria and Valentine are with each other and how age flips when they interact. Although the older, more experienced actress, Maria acts like a child on the train, frantically worried about the ceremony and idea of playing the older woman. She glorifies her breakthrough role as the young woman in Maloja Snake. Valentine—much more mature than Maria—is the cooler head, handling all the issues with poise.

The film is broken up into three acts and is even filmed like it as well, with cross-fades in and out of scenes. Act two focuses on Maria learning the lines of the older woman as she prepares for production. She and Valentine set up shop in a secluded house in the hills, discussing past loves and the future. As great as Binoche is, Stewart holds her own with the actress, showcasing a level of commitment not seen in a while. It’s easy for audiences to see Stewart as Bella from Twilight since there were so many vampire movies, but in this film, Stewart’s performance serves as a reminder she’s one of the best actresses of her generation.

In act two, we meet Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) the young, American actress who will portray the role Maria holds dear to her heart. Living a Lindsay Lohan-esque life, Jo-Ann is as serious about her work as she is about her partying. Maria Googles Jo-Ann and doesn’t believe she’s the right person for the role, despite Valentine’s perception of the actress. Jo-Ann eventually wins over Maria with flattery, however, quickly learns Jo-Ann is smarter than she appears.

There was so much good about this film that the little things didn’t bother me like they usually do. If Maria is this big-time actress, then why was nobody hounding her on the train ride? Why was there hardly any paparazzi following her when she was in Zurich?

We also learn quickly into the film that Maria is going through a divorce, but the subject is hardly mentioned again. But the performances and the cinematography by Yorick Le Saux are both hauntingly beautiful, taking audiences away from the little things. The filmmaker and all three actresses expertly toe the line on the subject of ageism, especially how unfairly actresses are treated when it comes to their age. Sure, Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington can continue to date younger women and walk away from explosions, but the the actresses must be young!

Clouds of Sils Maria is well filmed, capturing the captivating scenery of the Swiss Alps, almost to a point where they are the uncredited fourth lead. This insider’s look at the film business and the inner workings of an actress’s mind is funny, depressing, and insightful. Best of all, this film easily boasts the best ensemble acting so far this year.

Joe Jarosz is a Midwest boy now living in California.

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